The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from the state of Wisconsin on Monday that would weigh in on a lower court decision that found the state's Republican-drawn 2011 redistricting plan was both partisan against Democrats and unconstitutional.
If the Court deems partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional (this would be the first such case in Supreme Court history) the precedent could drastically alter the redistricting plans set for after 2020, a responsibility that the GOP controls in most states.
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to hear this case is a significant step towards returning the power to Wisconsinites by making sure it is them picking their representatives and not the other way around," said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) in a statement.
'Attack on Our Democracy'
Wisconsin Democrats are concerned that redistricting practices, such as the plan that took place in their state in 2011, could violate voters' democratic rights.
“Hyper-partisan gerrymandering is an attack on our democracy. The right and freedom of every citizen to meaningfully participate in choosing who works for them in the legislature must be protected and I am hopeful that our highest court will do that by finding what politicians did in Wisconsin is unconstitutional,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
"I have long advocated for an independent commission to draw legislative districts, which is the only way to take partisanship out of the process,” Kind also said.
Democrats took more than half of the overall votes for Congress in Wisconsin during the 2012 election. However, Republicans ended up receiving five out of the eight Congressional seats because of district lines in the state that had been redrawn in secret just a year earlier.
Democrats sued, claiming that the new maps violated First Amendment protections in the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act, and the case was originally heard before a three-judge federal panel in November 2016.
“We find that Act 43 was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats,” wrote Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple in the lower district court ruling. “Moreover, as demonstrated by the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, among other evidence, we conclude that Act 43 has had its intended effect.”
Part of Effort by Conservative Groups
The redistricting process in Wisconsin also had support from outside conservative groups.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based group that focuses on electing conservatives to state office positions, released a report in January 2013 detailing their successful $30 million multiyear campaign to influence state redistricting plans.
The report states that the committee's plan was to control the redistricting process in states such as Wisconsin, where they spent $1.1 million to gain control of the state Senate and the state Assembly, according to the report.
“Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade,” read the report.
The case will be heard when the Supreme Court's term begins in November.
IJR reached out to several Republican congressmen representing Wisconsin who did not respond to requests for comment on this article.